The budget was introduced at a special City Council meeting in October, 2004 but budget hearings for various city agencies and departments did not take place until March 2, almost eight months into fiscal year 2005.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy, elected this past November, has inherited the fiscal plan-in-progress.
The city has had to pass resolutions at City Council meetings every couple of months to authorize "Emergency Temporary Budget Appropriations" to pay employees.
Kathleen Dealy, the city's budget director, said last week that despite the fact that the budget is late, it will be adopted by the City Council at the end of this month so that the city's tax department can start sending out tax bills by May 1 to collect tax revenues to apply to the budget.
The municipal budget that was introduced in October for the 2005 fiscal year is $370.78 million, a nearly $16 million decrease from the Fiscal Year 2004 budget approved by the City Council last April. But the preliminary amount is subject to change since at least $16M in grant money and other revenues are still pending.
The budget could still increase to match last year's final budget of $386,108,230. That is the assessment of Dealy, who cited salary increases for Jersey City police and fire officers, as well as overtime payments for emergency services such as snow removal and Homeland Security.$131M for police, fire
In the introduced budget, the appropriations amount for the Police Department comes to $76,373,024 and the fire department at $55,030,500 but Dealy said the police need at least $4 million more and fire department at least $2 million more.
And then there is the situation with the city's three autonomous agencies - the Parking Authority, the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) and the Incinerator Authority.
All are running deficits, as officials from the respective agencies indicated at the budget hearings. The Parking and Incinerator authorities were asking for more money, and the MUA wants to renegotiate their franchise agreement with the city of paying $30M a year from 2003-2006, because they are only able to pay $20M this year.
Dealy said it would take some economic shuffling to find the money necessary to fill any gaps in the budget and provide money for the increases.
"I know certain divisions have retirees, I could take some of their money and move it someplace else," said Dealy. She said that when city employees retire, there would not be any new hiring, but rather the work can be covered by current employees who will receive a gradual raise, thus saving money.
Dealy also mentioned other kinds of revenues that will be utilized for this fiscal year's budget.
"I know our PILOT payments have increased a little bit for this budget," said Dealy.
PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, are what developers pay instead of conventional fluctuating tax rates. PILOTS go straight to the municipal budget rather than being divided among the school and county budgets. Jersey City is anticipating for this year's budget $69M in PILOTS, up $14M from the previous fiscal year. Balancing act
But for Dealy, the important aspect of her work is to make sure that the budget is balanced and reflects last fiscal year's budget total.
"The state kept the level of aid flat and hasn't increased it in years, and the federal government cutting back on their budget," Dealy said. "They're going to cut back to the state and the state is going to squeeze us tighter."
Earlier this month, Gov. Richard Codey announced the state's proposed $27.4 billion budget that would either freeze or reduce aid to municipalities along with other austere financial measures in order to reduce a $4 billion deficit. For New Jersey municipalities, it would mean property taxes have to be increased to make up for the aid shortfall, which Dealy said will definitely happen in Jersey City but it may not hit the city's property owners too hard in the pocketbook.
"What happens with the property taxes is, even though the number may go up, there's more people being assessed taxes," Dealy said. "So even though taxes may go up by 5 million, the average taxpayer might not see quite an increase, since it is spread over a large base."
There are also locally based taxes and fees that generate revenue to help plug the budget, from a hotel occupancy tax to municipal court fines. Why so late?
Dealy said that the delay in budget talks was due to the change in administrations. The budget was introduced in October when City Council President L. Harvey Smith was the interim mayor, but then Councilman at-Large Jerramiah Healy became mayor in a special election. Then there were changes in personnel not only in the city's departments but also in the City Council, as Healy's vacant council seat was filled by Ward A Councilman Peter Brennan and Brennan's seat was filled by Kathleen Curran.
"Legally, we are supposed to introduce our budget on August 10 and start budget hearings in September or October," Dealy said. "But [the state] knows. Especially in a town like this where we have had changes in the administration."
Dealy also said that Jersey City has for a number of years been late with their budget because the city operates on a fiscal year schedule (July to June), or a 12-month accounting period that does not correspond with a calendar year. Meanwhile, the state of New Jersey operates on a calendar year fiscal schedule, and usually most municipalities wait until the state announces state aid amounts. Budge it forward
After the departmental budget hearings that took place March 2-3 and 9-10, a special meeting will take place to introduce amendments to the budget, followed a couple of days later by a public hearing on the amendments.
"Whatever we propose in an amendment, even before I give it to council, I have to send it to the state," Dealy explained. "The [council will] introduce the amendments one week and then the next week, they will have a public hearing."
The budget will then be submitted to the state's Division of Local Government Services (operating within the Department of Community Affairs) for approval and sent back to the City Council for final adoption. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com